How Arcadia transformed a war machine into a party paradise at Glastonbury - Features - Mixmag

How Arcadia transformed a war machine into a party paradise at Glastonbury

Arcadia enters a new era at Glastonbury Festival with the launch of The Dragonfly, a reimagined military helicopter inspired by nature, optimism and creating a party spectacle like no other

  • Words: Patrick Hinton | Photos: Matt Eachus / The Manc Photographer, Shotaway
  • 4 July 2024

Arcadia has been a firm fan favourite at Glastonbury Festival since debuting in the South East Corner in 2007, delighting dance music fans with its combination of spectacular visuals and world class DJs.

Never ones to rest on their laurels, the performance art collective behind the stage always looks to find new ways to stun crowds. There’s been the construction of the iconic Spider in 2010, taking over their own field since 2014, and the launch of the mighty Pangea crane which stretched beyond the field to “take over the sky” in 2019, before the pandemic and a local council decision curtailed its continuation.

2024 marks the next stage in Arcadia’s storied history at the festival, debuting a brand new stage called The Dragonfly, with the main body made from an adapted ex-Royal Navy helicopter.

“It feels like it’s really important to evolve,” says Bertie Cole, co-founder and Technical Director of Arcadia when Mixmag gets a sneak peek of The Dragonfly on the festival’s opening day, with the finishing touches still being applied.

As well as looking and sounding incredible, environmental sustainability is an important part of Arcadia’s mission. 2023 marked the first time the stage ran entirely from renewable energy, while repurposing scrap is at the heart of their creative choices. “For us the scrap really leads the way,” explains Bertie, saying they received a tip from a military air base in Cornwall about the helicopter being for sale and were compelled to check it out. Once suspended in the air, the idea of a dragonfly began to form. “It’s been a really enchanting journey for us,” he adds. “It kind of just began by buying a helicopter because it looked cool, and then having the idea that it could be a dragonfly, and then jamming with that, and then suddenly it took shape.

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“We’ve used the scale of that helicopter meticulously to come back to nature, to what dragonflies are really like: the angles of their legs, the way they sit, the size of the head, the eyes, and we’ve always kind used that nature part to steer our design. It’s been really beautiful actually, bringing the scrap and nature into it, and allowing it to flow as a design process.”

Arcadia avoid using new materials wherever possible, the energy is all solar powered, and even the flames this year are created using bio-ethanol for the first time, which is a non-fossil fuel flame system. The former military helicopter being transformed also feels aligned with this sense of care. “Obviously that’s a war machine, it’s been to the Falklands, and you know, on Friday night it’s going to be pure joy, it’s gonna be the hub of this experience,” says Bertie. “Our ethos is really rooted in creatively demonstrating different ways of doing things that are out of the norm, but show potentially hopeful things for the future.

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“We actually met a guy here who was a radio operator in that helicopter, it actually crashed for its final flight and was taken out of service, so there’s this whole back history. For us to take this thing that we found in a junkyard and breathe new life into it, and create something that’s all about the beauty of nature, and about positive change, just feels like the perfect full circle for that as a piece of scrap.”

But regardless of the importance of Glastonbury’s hippie origins, there are plenty of people present who are just there to party — and Arcadia delivers for them in spades as well. “It is going to seriously come to life after dark,” Bertie promises. The launch on Friday night is nothing short of mind-blowing. The head, which contains the DJ booth and rotates, is covered in transparent LED screens, there’s colourful projection mapping across the whole body, while the ‘wings’ are formed from 22 high-powered lasers which stretch so far into the horizon that they almost reach Bristol. The sound feels a lot beefier than the Spider, with Joy Orbison’s anthemic ‘flight fm’ sending murky shockwaves through the field while jets of fire streak into the sky. Both crowds and DJs appear to be blown away by the whole experience across the weekend. “I played inside the head of a dragonfly at Glastonbury … the festival is soooo insane,” exclaims Amelie Lens who closes Friday night, while KI/KI calls it “the craziest stage I’ve ever DJ’d on so far.”

Each night, representatives of the Whadjuk Noongar nation, an Aboriginal group who have collaborated with Arcadia for years, perform a Warraloo ceremony in the middle of the program, which keeps the connection with the Earth and nature present in the midst of the DJ line-up. They even have a song about a dragonfly larvae transforming into its full form. As ever with Arcadia, there’s creativity, spectacle, music, and nature all in one, a perfect symbiosis achieved.

Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Editor & Digital Director, follow him on Twitter

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